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Gorgeous, Old-School 1955 Chevy 210 with a Big-Block Crate Engine

Old Gold: Craig Crawford gets bitten by a big Rat

Ro McGonegal Aug 23, 2016
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Younger readers will not know what we’re talking about. One reason: It’s likely that they never drove a Tri-Five when they were coming up. If you’re a geezer, though, a graybeard or a coot, you were around when those rascals littered the landscape. They were everywhere and great fodder for as great as projects could be back then. Now they’re tar-pit memories, gone the way of the Buffalo nickel, wafting hot-tar stink.

Maybe Craig Crawford was old enough then to be a force. I think not, but he readily admits to having an interest in such cars like the 210 he has now. “As a kid growing up in the small town of Newtown, Kansas, that’s all we did, was work on cars. I always wanted a ’55 with a big-block in it,” he gushed. Like most projects that consume three to four years, the timeline got skewed and plans changed. The object was to re-create the aura of the car when it was new, not to change or obscure the original intent, and that the interior treatment continued with that philosophy as well.

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“I bought the California chassis [the “one-piece” frame] at a swap meet two years before I got the car, then I started looking for the car. My friend Mark Bauer found it. He’d owned it in the ’80s. I bought it for $10,000 here in Wichita.” Craig pulled it apart to have the body parts sandblasted … and uncovered a horror show. Rot had run away with the entire floor. At this point, Bauer Restoration got involved. Mark welded in new floorboards and built the mini-tubs so that he wouldn’t be bumping into Craig again until it was time for paint.

So that it would clear the firewall and to create a skosh more space for the headers, steering, etc., Craig moved the Rat forward 1 inch. He had Currie make a narrowed 9-inch and he secured it with de-arched leafs (2 inches) located by an Earle Williams pocket kit that moves the springs inboard 4 inches. Heidts drop spindles and OE springs with one coil removed brought the front end down 3 inches. Ain’t that raked stance righteous? Since cruising was the objective, not the slalom or road course, Craig kept the brakes modest: Chevrolet 11-inch discs in front; 11-inch Ford drums in the rear.

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For the power picture, Craig thought it expedient as well as thrifty to have a large-capacity engine and install it right out of the box. But at any time a forced-air power-adder might just hop on the train, so the 502’s forged internals and low compression ratio are bright spots. The MSD ignition system and Earle Williams headers represent the pertinent aftermarket changes, so output is essentially unchanged from the factory values. Look at the room remaining above the 502. Hell, you could put Roots-type on it and still have no issue with the hood.

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Yeah, these dogs were big and high and wide and made for meat-and-potato people who fit the adult profile from that era and if they were to find themselves in Craig’s car they would see that everything looks pretty much like it did 60 years ago. (Yeah, where’s the tissue dispenser?) They’d dig the bench seat with the Glide Engineering center armrest, the vinyl and cloth upholstery, the subdued door panels and kick panels that Walt’s Upholstery in Mulvane, Kansas, tucked and fitted. Then the car was in Mark Bauer’s hands. He smoothed all the boogers, dents, and welts from the surface and chased them with PPG White and Silver.

The big thing is that Craig has finally lassoed that car in his mind’s eye, his age-old desire: a ’55 chewing on a big Rat. The job was finished more than a year ago, but when he talks about it now you hear the excitement in his voice like he got the thing back yesterday.

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We always want to know if the ideas that drove the project were sustainable and appreciated. What would he do differently? Without hesitation, Craig barked “nothing.” The most challenging thing about the project? “It was the first time I ever built a fuel-injected car.” Two of the coolest things about these vehicles were wing windows (perfect for snapping the ash off your Lucky) and a vent-pull on either side of the dashboard, a necessity in the days before manufactured cold air. If you were clipping along fast enough, the jammin’ funnel of cool incoming air was distracting at least. Craig’s 210 has Vintage Air HVAC.

As for the dynamic part, Craig said that he loved “getting in the car and driving to shows in Loveland, Colorado; Texas; and Iowa with my friends Jack Tanner, Jerry and Del Reusser, and their cars.” On the way home from the Loveland Goodguys meet, Craig clobbered a deer on the interstate. “Messy,” he said. “Very messy. That poor thing was everywhere and in everything. The grilled meat smell made it all worth it, though.” If the weather is dry he’ll drive it to work and to car shows in and out of town. So it’s no garage queen. It’s one of Craig’s daily drivers.

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Tech Check
Owner Craig Crawford, Wichita, Kansas
Vehicle 1955 Bel Air
Engine
Type Chevrolet Performance Ram Jet crate engine
Displacement 502 ci
Compression Ratio 9.6:1
Bore 4.470 inches
Stroke 4.000 inches
Cylinder Heads Aluminum oval port, 2.25/1.88 valves, 110cc combustion chambers, 290cc intake ports
Rotating Assembly Forged crankshaft, forged (shot-peened) rods, forged pistons
Valvetrain Stamped steel rockers 1.7:1 ratio, 3/8-inch pushrods
Camshaft OE hydraulic roller (224/234-deg. duration at 0.050; 0.527/0.544-inch lift)
Induction Ram Jet fuel injection, Spectre air cleaner, Rock Valley stainless 18-gallon fuel cell, Walbro pump
Ignition MEFI 4 controller, HEI distributor, MSD 6 box, 8mm primary wires
Exhaust Earle Williams Classic Chassis Works (La Verne, CA) headers w/ anodized 2-inch primaries, H-pipe, anodized 3-inch mild steel system, Flowmaster Super 44 mufflers
Ancillaries Alan Grove Components accessory drive system, thermostat fan, Be Cool radiator, 150-amp alternator, American Autowire harness, Mark Bauer mini-tubs
Output (at the crank) 502 hp at 5,100 rpm, 565 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm
Drivetrain
Transmission Chevrolet 4L60E, shift kit, 2,200-stall converter, Power Drive prop shaft
Rear Axle Currie 9-Plus, Detroit Locker differential, 3.89:1 gears, 31-spline axles
Chassis
Front Suspension Chevy “California 1-piece” frame, Heidts 2-inch drop spindles and tubular control arms, OE springs cut for 1-inch drop, Monroe gas-charged shock absorbers, Danchuk 1 1/4-inch antisway bar
Rear Suspension Stock springs de-arched 2-inches and pocketed, Monroe gas-charged shock absorbers
Brakes Chevrolet 11-inch discs, two-piston calipers front; Ford 11-inch drums rear; 1987 Corvette master cylinder; 7-inch booster; proportioning valve
Wheels & Tires
Wheels American Racing Classic Torq-Thrust II 15x6 front, 15x10 rear
Tires BFG T/A Radial 215/70 front, Drag Radial 325/50R rear
Interior
Upholstery Walt’s Upholstery (Mulvane, KS)
Material Vinyl/cloth
Seats OE bench with Glide Engineering armrest
Steering ididit column w/ revised shift indicator, 605 box, 15-inch replica wheel
Shifter OE column modified to work with four-speed automatic
Dash OE
Instrumentation Auto Meter Ultra-Lite
Audio Custom Autosound head unit, 5-inch front speakers, 6x9-inch rear speakers installed by Craig Crawford
HVAC Vintage Air
Exterior
Bodywork Bauer Restoration (Wichita, KS)
Paint By Mark Bauer
Paint PPG Silver and White
Hood OE
Grille OE

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